Diggins Wins Silver; Leads Four Into Top 18 In 30k Freestyle
Jessie Diggins turned herself inside out to win the silver medal in the women’s 30k freestyle Sunday - her second medal of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. But just as impressive as her gutsy performance, all four Team USA athletes finished in the top 18 on another extreme weather day at the Kuyangshu Nordic Center, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Rosie Brennan just missed the podium for the second time at these Games, finishing fifth; while Sophia Laukli was 15th in her Olympic debut and Novie McCabe was 18th - the best-ever cross country performance by American women at the Olympic Winter Games. Norway’s Therese Johaug won her third gold medal of the Games, finishing with a time of 1:24:45. Diggins was 1:23 back, while Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen led a strong chase in the closing kilometers to take the bronze at 2:43 back.
Despite suffering a bout of food poisoning on Saturday, Diggins came out firing on all cylinders Sunday. She matched the early pace and eventually made the front group selection on the first of four 7.5k laps. “I went from having not the race prep I had envisioned - laying in bed, force-feeding myself oatmeal and soup from a can - to here we go,” she said. “But I just wanted to race because I love to race.”
With wind gusts in excess of 50mph and temperatures in the low teens, Johaug threw down an attack on the second lap, grinding her nose into the wind and building a lead of 27 seconds over Diggins at the halfway point. Meanwhile, Diggins clawed out a 49-second advantage over Sweden’s Ebba Andersson in third, while Brennan led the charge in the chase group.
“I felt really good, but it was a frustrating race,” Brennan said. “I really wanted to bridge up that top group, but nobody was really interested in working with me, which is always hard. I really just had to do it on my own, and that was hard and I really paid the price at the end, and that was hard to swallow.”
As the final event of the Games, Diggins, Brennan, Laukli, and McCabe had a ton of support not only from their cross country teammates but members of the U.S. Biathlon Team, and other Team USA athletes, coaches, and staff. “The cheering was insane,” Diggins said. “I felt like the whole world was cheering and helping me get up those hills.”
With Johaug and Diggins off the front, the battle was on for the bronze. Andersson was eventually caught by the chase group, finishing eighth, while Brennan just missed a medal by
5.4 seconds. Meanwhile, Laukli and McCabe - who finished fifth and eighth respectively in the final stage of the Tour de Ski last month - moved up throughout the race, proving that the next generation of USA skiers are ready to step up to the world stage.
Diggins’ silver medal matches the best-ever American cross country performance of Bill Koch from the 1976 Olympics, also won in the 30k mass start.
Up next, Diggins and Brennan fly to Finland Monday for next weekend’s FIS Cross Country World Cup in Lahti - a freestyle sprint and a 10k classic. Laukli and McCabe head back to the U.S. Monday and will compete in upcoming NCAA races for the University of Utah.